Aquariums are one of our favourite places to visit and we have been lucky to visit many around the world. When we planned a visit to Bristol with the children, of course the Bristol Aquarium was on our bucket list.
Our hotel The Bristol Hotel was less than a five minute walk to the Bristol Aquarium which is conveniently situated in the trendy Millennium Square / Harbourside area of the city, next to the At-Bristol science centre.
The Bristol Aquarium is much bigger than what you see on the outside and features more than 40 naturally-themed displays of aquatic life from jellyfish and rays to piranhas and sharks.
As you enter the aquarium though a ship’s hull you encounter hundreds of native species found off the water’s of the UK set in a brilliantly themed life sized replica of a sunken ship.
The aquarium is a self-guided experience and the girls were fascinated seeing some of the sharks that can be found in UK waters, such as smoothhound sharks, cat sharks etc. The use of low level lighting for the welfare of the marine life, creates a more natural environment for them.
What was great about Bristol Aquarium was that the majority of the tanks were at the children’s level so they could look into the tanks without any help. Personally, I love watching the jellyfish, it’s totally mesmerising watching them change colour and the girls were fascinated after we told them they have no brains.
We enjoyed learning about the different kinds of seahorse and now know that there is a species called the big bellied seahorse. We were told that the big-bellied seahorses at Bristol Aquarium are part of a captive-breeding programme, and when the baby seahorse hatches it is only the size of a grain of rice!
The Bristol Aquarium is the only aquarium in the UK to feature a giant botanical house, known as the Urban Jungle. This giant bio-dome was one of my favourite parts and totally unexpected as we entered the attraction. The open topped Bay of Rays is located at the start of the Urban Jungle journey and my youngest daughter was fascinated watching the rays as they flapped past you like they are waving.
As you make your way along the multi-level walkway around the bio-dome you get a fantastic birds eye view of this section of the aquarium and in particular of the ray tank, so you could get a different perspective. This part of our visit was so well themed it felt as though you were outside in the rainforest, as we encountered many exotic plants and tree species from around the world, there were even bananas growing.
The trail in the Urban Jungle ends upstairs in the aquarium, which is themed to reflect the Bristol Harbourside. The girls loved looking down to the ocean like display tank below spotting the rays that had camouflaged into their surroundings.
At the Edge of the Rainforest we all encountered an electric eel for the first time along with the most toxic frogs in the world!
There are lots of information boards around the aquarium featuring pictures and key facts about the marine life which was suitable and engaging for all ages. It was interesting to learn from these boards that the electric eel is in fact not an eel but a knife-fish related to the catfish, I still can’t believe how large an electric eel is!
Upon entering the second bio-dome the ‘Amazing Amazon’ complete with waterfalls and a breath taking open top display of Mississippi map turtles and yellow bellied turtles in the tanks below.
The combination of living plants and marine life is just brilliant here and what caught my daughter’s attention were the sugar canes with fantastic informational boards highlighting how much sugar we should have each day. The girls even gave their daddy a row for having sugar in his tea! We spent an age here as we were all so immersed in this section watching the turtles and catfish.
The theming of the aquarium is thoughtfully designed reflecting the habitat of that specific marine life species, especially so in the Coral Seas area. Walking on the wooden footbridge over the open-top 250,000 litre tank home to tropical sharks such as the Leopard Shark and the Bamboo Cat Shark was just amazing. Also in the reef and always a favourite with the girls were clownfish (Nemo) and Dory (which the girls now know is a Regal Tang fish) from the Disney film.
One of our favourite places in aquariums is the view as you walk through the glass tunnel. Although the tunnel in the Bristol Aquarium is small in comparison to those offered at the likes of the London Aquarium it offered panoramic views of the marine life above and via a really cool bubble-helmet viewing point.
The friendly member of the aquarist team we encountered had a fantastic knowledge of the many species of marine life by name. She was able to tell us about the conservation projects that the aquarium is involved with and my daughters loved the chance to be able to ask questions about the fish they could see in the tanks. My eldest daughter loved the Longhorn Unicorn fish.
There were feeding demonstrations, talks and activities throughout the day so there were plenty of opportunities to learn a little more about the marine life on display. What I thought was good value was that your ticket was valid all day. So you could leave for lunch or visit another area of the Harbourside and come back to specific feeding sessions or talks later on in the day.
We had such a great time at Bristol Aquarium which took us around 2 hours to explore. Although it’s not on the same scale as some of the larger aquariums around the UK it still offered a fun educational trip and I would recommend as a great all-weather family attraction to visit whilst in Bristol.
For more information please visit the Bristol Aquarium website at http://www.bristolaquarium.co.uk/
We were guests of the Bristol Aquarium for the purpose of the review.